Maladministration in Brussels: EC must develop new procedure to avoid ‘Selmayrgate’

EU Ombudsman find four instances of maladministration after the rubber-stamping that saw Juncker’s ‘monster’ made EC secretary-general

Jean Claude Juncker and Martin Selmayr (left)
Jean Claude Juncker and Martin Selmayr (left)

The European Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, has found four instances of maladministration in the appointment of the European Commission’s Secretary-General in February 2018.

The swift and controversial promotion of Jean-Claude Juncker’s chief of staff Martin Selmayr, 47, to secretary-general of the European Commission, became a serious matter of debate in the European Parliament after the EC was accused of rubber-stamping the surprise nomination of Selmayr, both admired and feared eminence-grise to the EU boss.

“The maladministration arose due to the Commission not following the relevant rules correctly either in letter or in spirit,” Emily O’Reilly said in a statement.

“The Commission created an artificial sense of urgency to fill the post of Secretary-General in order to justify not publishing a vacancy notice. It also organised a Deputy Secretary-General selection procedure, not to fill that role, but rather to make Mr Selmayr Secretary-General in a rapid two-step appointment.”

The Ombudsman said the Commission’s communications on this issue, which raised valid concerns, have been defensive, evasive and at times combative.

“Our inquiry was based on an inspection of thousands of pages of Commission internal documents, and it shows the precise steps the Commission took in order to make the appointment process appear normal.

“All of this risked jeopardising the hard-won record of high EU administrative standards and consequently, the public trust.

“The College of Commissioners collectively is responsible for the maladministration in this case. It is extraordinary that no Commissioner seemed to question the Secretary-General appointment procedure, which in the end raised valid widespread concerns,” O’Reilly said.

The Ombudsman callsed on the Commission to develop a specific and separate appointment procedure for its Secretary-General to prevent a repeat of this happening. The procedure should include publishing a vacancy notice, placing it on the agenda of the weekly Commissioners’ meeting and also including external experts in the consultative committee for the appointment.

The scandal was down to the fact that Juncker – whose term ends in 2019 – admitted having known over two years in advance of the departure of the outgoing EC secretary-general, and arranged to have Selmayr interviewed for the vacant post of deputy secretary-general and then immediately elevated to the top job: some newspapers dubbed it a classic case of “parachutisme”, others a “coup”.

Selmayr’s appointment became a matter of intrigue in Brussels, which had critics accusing the bloc of introducing greater German control of several of the EU’s institutions.

The Commission was also disparaging of the journalist who broke the story, Jean Quatremer of Libération, who was referred to by a commission spokesman as “Robespierre”. Quatremeur revealed that Juncker kept his fellow commissioners in the dark about both the retirement of secretary-general Alexander Italianer, and Selmayr’s appointment until minutes before they were asked to confirm Selmayr in the job.

The deputy job was advertised internally on 31 January. Selmayr and another candidate were interviewed for the job, as well as an interview with commissioner for personnel Günther Oettinger, on 15 and 16 February.

The controversy deepened because the commissioners were asked to ratify first Selmayr’s appointment to deputy secretary-general on 21 February, a post recently vacated and for which he was interviewed according to the rules; and then immediately rubber-stamp his elevation to the top job the same morning that the Italianer vacancy was announced.

The other candidate was  none other than Selmayr’s former deputy Clara Martinez Alberola, who has now neatly succeeded him as the head of Juncker’s private office.

Juncker announced to the press only Selmayr’s promotion without referring to the Byzantine process employed for these promotions: if Juncker knew, as he said, of Italianer’s departure date since 2015, why was Selmayr propelled to the job in this way?

Juncker claims he did not go public on Italianer’s departure date so as not to undermine his ability to do his job. A spokesman refused to say whether Selmayr knew of Italianer’s departure.


Instances of maladministration in full

  1. The Ombudsman found that there was a failure to take appropriate measures to avoid the risk of a conflict of interests arising from the involvement of Selmayr or other members of the President’s Cabinet in the decision-making leading to the creation and approval of the vacancy notice for Deputy Secretary-General – a vacancy for which Selmayr highly likely knew he would apply for and later did.
  2. There was a failure to ensure that the composition of the Consultative Committee on Appointments (CCA), for the selection of a Deputy Secretary-General, was in accordance with Article 10 of the CCA Rules of Procedure.
  3. The EC then held a selection procedure for Deputy Secretary-General, which did not serve its stated purpose to fill the vacancy, but rather only to ensure that Selmayr would be eligible for reassignment as Secretary-General.
  4. As the impending retirement of Italianer was kept secret, a situation of urgency to fill the post of Secretary-General was created artificially. Even then, this should not have prevented the Commission from launching a procedure to identify and evaluate possible candidates for Secretary-General before Italianer would retire. 

More in Europe